Why is it hard to hire for learning roles? 3 early hypotheses

Folks: Learning is hot right now. At least, in the aid and development sectors. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) teams are now monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL). Strategy departments have become “Strategy and Learning”; research departments, “Research and Learning”.

Learning feeds into real-time adaptation, longer-term strategic shifts, and broader sectoral changes. It makes M&E meaningful as something more than donor reporting and gives practical purpose to research.

It’s a promising employment area as well: Devex has 684 job postings with the word “learning” in the title. That’s fewer than have “monitoring” (1,309) or “evaluation” (1,237)—but I’m fairly sure learning has been on an upward trend from a few years ago.

All that said, I’m having trouble squaring the learning boom with the fact that several organizations I know are really struggling to hire learning staff. I’ve had several conversations in recent weeks about the challenges of finding the right fit.

My sample is too small and most of my data too anecdotal to explain why, but my early hypotheses are:

  • Not enough people interested: Learning roles aren’t as attractive to job candidates, perhaps because the function is not yet defined enough to have a clear career path.
  • Not enough people qualified, likely because the job is defined too broadly: Most learning roles sit at the intersection of M&E, research, communications, management, and strategy. Few candidates have experience in more than one or two of those, so there are not enough qualified candidates in the pools.
  • Not sure what they’re looking for: Organizations aren’t sure how the learning role connects to the rest of their work (it’s often a newly created position) and so it’s hard for hiring mangers to picture how any given candidate will fit in.

Is anyone else experiencing trouble hiring for learning roles? If so, I’d be curious to hear more about it—in the comments below or by email.

Pictured: TA LEARN workshop in Rio.